FairerScience in an Unfair World: Interview with Patricia Campbell

Patricia B. Campbell, PhD is a tireless fighter for science education and for gender equality in science. She runs the FairerScience website and the FairerScience blog. At the Science Blogging Conference three weeks ago, Pat was on the panel on Gender and Race in Science: online and offline.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?
Hmmm who am I? Good question–well professionally I was a college professor of Research Measurement and Statistics at Georgia State University and I quit the day I got tenure (apparently that doesn’t happen very often). I’ve always had a goal of changing the world and for me the best way to do that seemed to be through setting up a small company doing educational research and evaluation with a focus on issues of gender and race/ethnicity. So that’s what I did and the company, Campbell-Kibler Associates, Inc is 30 years old this year. It’s named after daughter Kathryn Campbell-Kibler, who at the age of four months, sued the state of Georgia to have her birth certificate issued in a hyphenated last name (she won).
Pat%20Campbell%20interview%20pic.jpgTo have real life job of changing the world and breaking down stereotypes is incredibly fun. I’ve gotten to co-author the AAUW Report: How Schools Shortchange Girls (got some hate press on that one), be an expert witness in the Citadel sex discrimination case and work with educational researchers in Uganda and South Africa. And husband Tom Kibler and I have been the oldest, fastest straightest couple on AIDS bike rides between Boston and New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles (we broke down a lot of stereotypes on those).
What do you want(ed) to do/be when you grow up?
A feminist mathematician. Then one semester I took a topology course and a stat course at the same time and decided that being a feminist educational researcher was a much better choice.
You run the FairerScience project. Can you tell my readers what is it about, what are your goals and what are your methods?
I call it my “thank you Larry Summers” project. I wrote this when we set up the website two years ago and it still is a good description:

In earlier ages, it was believed that women could not pursue
mathematics because their heads were too small, their nervous systems
too delicate or their reasoning capacities insufficient. Such an eminent
educational theorist as Rousseau believed that women were not qualified
for research in abstract areas such as mathematics and science because
their brains were unfit. Recent comments from sources ranging from the
President of Harvard University to reporters in the Financial Times
indicate that these inaccurate, antiquated notions are still with us.
Researchers and advocates for women in science, technology, engineering
and mathematics (STEM) have not been effectively communicating their
findings in ways that allow the public including policy makers,
educators and parents to understand and evaluate these findings and,
where appropriate, make decisions based on them. FairerScience is committed to
changing that.

So we have some multimedia analysis of why it is so hard to get the media and others to get beyond the “math gene” + “biology is destiny” stuff and some ideas of ways researchers and others can help, including how to better communicate with the media. We also have some powerpoints that people are welcome to use in their own presentations.
Since the stats on gender and race/ethnicity in science change so quickly instead of constantly updating the most current statistics, we developed a tool so people could get the data themselves. That wasn’t the most popular part of the website, so I’ll be adding something on the current statistics pretty soon. Also coming soon are short user-friendly summaries of the research on topics like single sex education and science; what actually makes a difference in encouraging girls in science.
We’ve started working on ways to use women in science blogs to encourage girls in science. Some blogs like On Being a Scientist and a Woman are great ways to show girls the kinds of personal and professional lives women in science and engineering. Other blogs like Antarctic Journal show everyone how really cool science can be.
There’s lots on the FairerScience website and we try to have at least some fun with it. I would love it if folks would let me know other resources they might like.
How do you see your blog and other science blogs (both by male and female authors) as a part of the armamentarium in changing the culture of academia?
Good question and I’m not sure what the answer is. Certainly the blogesphere is reducing isolation – especially when it comes to women in science. Folks are learning the problems aren’t just about them–they are structural, pervasive and hurt men as well. The exchange of sympathy and congratulations, advice and support helps a lot. Will it grow to a critical mass with the potential to change the academic culture? Well I’ve seen a lot of change in academia in the past 30 years, but those changes don’t seem to have had much impact on the culture. Still I have hope and there is something to be said for critical mass…
When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at
the Conference?

You know I don’t remember, but I think I stumbled on to Cocktail Party Physics and was hooked. Thanks to the conference I’m now reading Karen Ventii’s Science to Life and, oh yes, there is this blog that I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know about prior to the conference. It’s called A Blog Around the Clock . I like it a lot.
Some of my other favorites are:
Language Log
Rants of a Feminist Engineer
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Thus Spake Zuska
A K8, A Cat, A Mission
Scientiae Carnival which is a really good source of blogs on women and science
Oh, and Go Fug Yourself; that counts as a science blog doesn’t it?
Is there anything that happened at the Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?
There are several things. This was my first experience with an unconference and I loved it. I’ve started making notes about what can encourage and discourage unconferencing (i.e. room set up, expectations, time keeping). I’m moderating a session at AAAS this year, Blogs, Boards, and Bonding, and am planning to make it as much of an unsession as possible.
Probably the most powerful thing that came out of the conference for me, as you and Anton know, was the reinforcement that just inviting people who haven’t been/been allowed at the table to participate isn’t enough. There needs to be active outreach, an effort to build trust, to let people know that they are welcome and they will be respected. When that is done, people respond. It happened at the Conference and made for a great conference. I’m hoping that others will pick up on that message as well. I’m doing my part to spread the idea.
It was so nice meeting you at the Conference and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next year.
Check out all the interviews in this series.


2 responses to “FairerScience in an Unfair World: Interview with Patricia Campbell

  1. Yay, Pat! And hurrah for Fairer Science! Thanks for the interview, Coturnix.

  2. Pingback: ScienceOnline interviews « A Blog Around The Clock